In 2005 Peter Slater & a group of like minded friends, all of whom had worked and lived in Asia for a number of years, visited Cambodia. All were stuck by the beauty of the country and how wonderful the Cambodia people, both young and old, were.
However it was also impossible not be struck by the devastating impact of the tragic events of the Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge regime. Across the country it was still evident through the levels of poverty, the lack of any real breadth and depth of professional skills (so many doctors, nurses, teachers, and other professionals were killed during the regime) as well as on the faces of many of the people even after so many years have passed.
Walking through the streets, talking to local people, visiting a number of NGO’s (Non Governmental Organisations / Charities) and orphanages it was clear to the group of friends that there was a desperate need for help and an opportunity to make a real, tangible and meaningful difference to the lives of literally hundreds and then thousands of children.
So the group of friends established the Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF) and became its first Trustees. It was very quickly agreed that their focus would be centred around two core programmes, an educational programme and a football coaching programme, as each would have a profound and significant impact on the lives of many children.
The Education programme initially started with two Khmer teachers teaching basic English to about 20 children who had had no previous formal education and who had spent their time begging and collecting garbage to help provide for their families. The Education Centre, operating at first from one room, and then two houses in the Phnom Penh district of Boeng Salang was initially funded entirely by the founding Trustees. In 2007 an additional Centre was set up in the Stung Meanchay district as it was recognised that many of the children came from this area and this was the area of greatest deprivation and need. At this stage approximately 80 children were attending the two Centres and the curriculum had been expanded to cover Khmer reading and writing, maths, some English and drama. In addition, a free lunch and all books were provided and the families of the children were given a monthly food parcel to compensate them for the loss of earnings from the children. The food parcels were a critical component and ensured the attendance rate was excellent.
ISF’s expansion was facilitated by the recruitment in 2008 of an exceptionally talented and committed full time Country Manager, Kate Griffin. By 2009 we had moved into an excellent new building in Stung Meanchay which met all the charity’s current needs & there were over 160 children attending the Centre or being sponsored though the state system by the ISF. By 2012 the Centre had 117 children participating in our “catch up” education system and a further 108 being sponsored at State Schools or in vocational training.
The change that has been seen in these children has been nothing short of miraculous. When the first children arrived in 2006 they had had no formal education, all had been working for a number of years even though they were less than 13 years old, they were all malnourished, had multiple minor ailments and injuries and lacked any real self confidence. All have now progressed significantly in their educational understanding, their health and complexion have improved significantly, none of them now have to work and they have all become confident young people. The children have also enjoyed their childhoods in a way that would have previously been inconceivable.
ISF plans to continue with the current education model which educates our students through our ‘catch up’ system, state school integration, vocational training / third level education and assistance with job placements.
We plan to grow the Stung Meanchey Education Centre to a maximum of 450 students. By capping the number it will ensure that we can give individual attention to all the children and provide for them sufficiently. Each year ISF will replace the number of children in the ‘catch up’ system in line with the number of children graduating from the state school.
In order to make the Stung Meanchey Education Centre more sustainable and stable, ISF is purchasing land & building a new Centre to eliminate the risk created when renting premises. The new Centre will open in 2013.
ISF has an excellent working education model which has the potential to reach many more children. Therefore we are extending our services by opening a second Education Centre with the same community structure and focus. This Centre, which is expected to be established by early 2013, will be in another nearby district of Phnom Penh so that we can leverage existing skills and allow both Centres to support each other. It will start with 60 children and grow to a maximum of 450 students.
The Football Coaching Programme was developed alongside the Education Programme as it was recognised that children, no matter how disadvantaged, required not only a decent education but also the opportunity to enjoy themselves and develop other life skills.
Involvement in a team sport provides the children with multiple benefits, teamwork and leadership skills, fitness, an emphasis of the importance of discipline and the building of self confidence whilst having fun.
ISF’s football coaching activities started with a partnership with one orphanage in Kandal province, The Sunrise Children’s Village, but we quickly built relationships with many other NGO’s and, thanks to individual sponsorship of each team, the programme grew fast.
The Programme is provided in partnership with the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC) and the Sports And Leadership Training (SALT) Academy in Battambang.
In March 2007 ISF organised our first U14 boys football tournament at the Old Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh. With 250 children participating and another 500 hundred children spectating it was an amazing success with the sound of children’s laughter and cheering reverberating around the stadium. Since then the U14 boys tournament has become an annual event and in 2009 the first girls Football Tournament of its kind in Cambodia was organised by the ISF on the weekend before the boys tournament. In 2011 a tournament for deaf children was added to the event.
By 2010 the immense popularity of the Programme led to the establishment of the Barclays Capital ISF Youth League with 54 teams in Phnom Penh and the ANZ Royal SALT League in Battambang. The leagues are composed of both girls and boys divisions promoting girls’ equal rights to participate in sports and physical activities.
The Football Programme has continued to expand significantly and now grass roots football is spreading across Cambodia with the ongoing support and involvement of the Football Federation of Cambodia. By 2012 to over 4,000 boys and girls across Phnom Penh, Kandal, Battambang, Prey Veng & Sihanoukville were enjoying and benefitting from weekly football training sessions, the Leagues and Tournaments provided by ISF’s Football Programme.